Anthony Gottlieb is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a former Executive Editor of The Economist. His latest book is The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy.
 (February 2019)

Follow Anthony Gottlieb on Twitter: @N10Egottlieb.

IN THE REVIEW

Accentuate the Positive

An Indian health official administering polio vaccine drops to newborn babies at a hospital in Agartala, India, as part of a nationwide program to eradicate polio, January 2018

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

by Steven Pinker
For Steven Pinker, the reason why human life changed for the better in the past two centuries is simple: “The Enlightenment has worked—perhaps the greatest story seldom told.” He construes the Enlightenment broadly, to include not just its core in the last third of the eighteenth century but a quarter of a millennium of European history, from the intellectual pioneers of the early 1600s to liberals in the first half of the nineteenth century. What these thinkers had in common, according to Pinker, was a belief that we can and should “apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing.” As a slogan for the long Enlightenment, this is apt enough, though we get few further particulars. Pinker is thumping a bible that he rarely opens. And when he does open it, he mainly sees a mirror.

Who Was David Hume?

Hume: An Intellectual Biography

by James A. Harris
In his own day, and into the nineteenth century, Hume’s philosophical writings were generally seen as perverse and destructive. Their goal was “to produce in the reader a complete distrust in his own faculties,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1815–1817. The best that could be said for Hume as a philosopher was that he provoked wiser thinkers to refute him in interesting ways.